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Claude Melton, Christian Nativity Rock Museum

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  • Location:

    Kearney, Missouri, USA (Map)

  • Status:

    Relocated (incl. Museums)

  • Artist:
Visiting Information

The Nativity Rock Church is now on display at the Kearney Historic Museum in downtown Kearney, open Fridays and Saturdays. 

About the Artist/Site

With the profusion of grottoes and religious environments proliferating around the Midwest, Claude Melton’s decision to begin creating a personal grotto to celebrate the life and times of Jesus Christ was probably not taken as quite so unusual by his neighbors, despite the fact that one later wrote that “It was 1972 and I couldn’t smoke enough cannabis to be convinced my neighbor’s creations were art” (Susie Clavenger).”

Apparently dissatisfied with his local church, in 1938, Melton, an electrical lineman, began digging out the basement underneath his home; later, he added wings to both sides and outbuildings, enabling him to expand the various dioramas and tableaux that focused on such biblical scenes as the Garden of Eden and a three-dimensional map of the Holy Land, but also on more patriotic scenes such as Christopher Columbus, the Pilgrims, the Apollo Moon Landing, and a local supper club.

Built on a base of concrete, Melton added local stones and rocks, as well as toy figures, Christmas lights, stuffed toy and taxidermy animals, crosses, broken glass and much more. The Ten Commandments were spelled out in rocks, set off by bright painted doors, “rivers,” and “roads.” “I guess the good Lord guided me,” Melton said in 1991. Visitors paid one dollar for access to the various scenes.

Around 1994 Melton abandoned his grotto due to ill health, and while the Kansas Grassroots Arts Association undertook some restoration and tried to find homes for some of the materials, the original site ultimately deteriorated and was destroyed to make room for the construction of new duplexes. However, the Nativity Rock Church is now on display at the Kearney Historic Museum in downtown Kearney, open Fridays and Saturdays.

~Jo Farb Hernández



Map and site information

101 South Jefferson Street
Kearney, Missouri, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 39.372715 / -94.362164

Visiting Information

The Nativity Rock Church is now on display at the Kearney Historic Museum in downtown Kearney, open Fridays and Saturdays. 

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